The September Harvest
The September Harvest
Published by Edgar Million at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Edgar Million
The September Harvest
“Of course,” the elderly gentleman told the apprehensive looking couple sitting in front of him, “we are only a mid-tier Public School. But we do provide an excellent education. However,” he raised a hand in warning, “at this entry-point we can only allow you with access to the luck and well-being of around one hundred plebeians.”
The couple looked at the Headteacher then glanced at each other, wondering if they’d heard him correctly. The Head, noticing the bemused look on their faces shifted in his seat, then shuffled his papers as if looking for a fact he’d missed.
“Ah,” he said, looking back up with the amiable grin of a man who’d just solved an especially difficult crossword puzzle and bearing the eccentric countenance and fashion sense of one of Bertie Wooster’s elderly relatives, as he reconsidered his words.
“Apologies are due it seems – just realised you’re not part of our usual intake – you are, I believe, new to all this? Old grammar school graduates, I see.”
Gary and Cassandra both nodded.
“Well then,” he said, “I have a little explaining to do. I need to veer away from my well rehearsed speech. It is so very pleasant to make a different address for a change.”
For a moment the Head seemed to look through them and the wood panelled comfort of his office to some other place, then he found himself again.
“You know how in life people will say ‘it’s not what you know, but who’, well this is true, but luck also plays an important part.”
“It’s true,” Gary nodded, “I fluked the 11 plus. One less percentage point and I’d probably be working the night shift in the warehouse behind Morrisons with my brother, Joe. But I still don’t quite understand your point.”
“Well,” the Head said, then looked around as if someone else might be watching, “there is another saying you may be familiar with, ‘you make your own luck’.”
Cassandra groaned inwardly at the cliché, wondering for a moment if they were really considering paying a more than considerable, almost but not quite, unaffordable, sum for their only child to be exposed to hackneyed nonsense like this, but despite her usual candour when faced with, well, weaker minded individuals, the pomp of her surroundings had glued her tongue to the base of her mouth.
“Well, the saying is truer than many people realise. An inalienable fact of existence, in fact.”
With this he withdrew two sheets of paper from a leather pouch, thick heavy parchment which smelt of money and power.
“But I can’t tell you about it. Not yet anyway. Not until you’ve signed up.”
“Signed-up? To what?”
“You’ve heard of the ‘Official Secrets Act’?” he asked, “Yes, well this is a more ancient, more binding version of that, the ‘Treatise of Sighs’. The Official Secrets Act had this one in mind when created, but lacks some of the , weight of this one. Once you sign, if you sign of course, you will not be able to discuss its contents with anyone other than yourselves or other members of this rather exclusive club.”
Cassandra tried to shoo away the sceptical look now adorning her face, but as her mother had always told her, her face was an open window without the net curtains – you could always see what was going on and the neighbours were sure to to talk.
“My dear,” he said to her, noting her growing scepticism, brushed a hand across her arm with fingers with seemed impossibly soft and delicate, almost like suede, “I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it is true. I am about to let you into the biggest secret of the British public school system, of the global private school system even, but before I can, I need you to sign the treatise – it’s a kind of old fashioned non-disclosure form. Can’t tell you otherwise and our meeting will be brought to an untimely demise. I would so hate that; I do think, despite your background originally, you’re, our kind of people.”
Gary took the document then cast his eyes down the page, Cassandra speedreading phrases like ‘binding contract’ and ‘ancient and solemn treatise’ over his shoulder. If this is a ruse, she thought, they’ve not skimped on the details.
She watched Gary scratch his neat little signature onto the yellowed paper without hesitation. It was something she admired about him. He had a straightforward ‘just get on with it’ approach to life and if he was sometimes a little unsubtle he lacked the doubts which lingered behind the smart, even spiky woman her colleagues thought they knew.
What the hell? she thought. He’s signing?
Then, dammit why not? she asked herself, they weren’t committed to sending him to this ridiculous place, just not to reveal the Head’s absurd secret. So she snatched the pen from Gary’s hand and added her own name to the charade.
Let him tell his stories.
Cassandra was a confident successful woman, used to being in charge, to take charge, but as she finished the final squiggle on the final N in her surname she wondered if she knew anything at all, knew for one certain moment she had never known anything or been right about anything at all.
It seemed as though all the air was sucked from the room and she could have sworn she heard a scream somewhere in the distance, almost a banshee wail, which began to subside but was replaced with a thousand agonised screams, or more, seeming to pour out of the bricks which supported the clock tower above their heads.
She could hear souls weeping, which were there and then, all of a sudden, not there. All was dark in the world and she too wanted to weep and flee, then just as quickly, the wave of terror passed; there was air again and light.
She could breathe.
The head stared at her out of eyes which now reminded her of cats, hunters eyes, so she looked away while she tried to gather her thoughts.
Had it been real?
Meeting Gary’s eye she could tell he’d felt it too, but as the room returned to its formerly airy state, the smell of fresh cut grass gusting in from perfect, green gardens which had reminded Cassandra of Downton Abbey she began to wonder if maybe she’d imagined it.
Maybe he drugged the green tea she thought, looking down into her bone China cup as though she were trying to read the leaves, a stupid expression on her face, then glanced back around the office, not for the first time thinking it wouldn’t be out of place in Hogwarts.
A mid tier school indeed, she thought, recalling the grey concrete sixties monstrosity they’d visited in Walthamstow yesterday, a sullen looking gang of scowling boys scowling at their Mercedes as it passed. After the open evening where an edgy, giant of a man bounded about the stage talking about their superb support systems and all the extra funding they had these days from pupil premium, they returned to find a key shaped fingerprint gouged along its silver side. The left-hand side mirror dangled from its socket.
Gentrification was all well and good, but it hadn’t extended to the school system as far as she could tell. All very well to be able to have good coffee and pastries, to be able buy quinoa and edamame beans, but what was the point if your child sounded like them? The smudgy looking boys who’d vandalise your car the moment your back turned.
The Head picked up the document and scrutinised the signature for a few seconds, then, apparently satisfied, returned his spotlight gaze onto the couple.
“Mr and Mrs Harrison, the secret I am going to let you in on is that Public Schools in Britain, whilst selling education, are also stocking something rather more important: good fortune. Now I can see you look rather sceptical at this, and I quite understand, however this is indeed what we are selling.”
Cassandra was beginning to think this might not be the school for their boy, maybe they should reconsider the local comprehensive, it scored okay in the OFSTED reports. Not spectacular, but solid. Maybe she was just being a snob. Then she remembered the smudgy boys.
I don’t think so, she thought.
Another public school then, away from this demented man.
This elderly gent was clearly off his trolley and given the eye watering fees they charged, well, you’d prefer the teachers to be sane. Wouldn’t you?
“Where you get the, er, luck?” asked Gary.
“We harvest it using a centuries old process. The mode we use now was originally developed by Sir Isaac Newton, but great minds have refined it ever since. The progress we made during the industrial revolution was magnificent. Computers have made it all very efficient. The unwritten history of the British people.”
“Okay,” Cassandra said, then glanced at Gary then the door, considering making a run for it, but wondering how to signal Gary to coordinate the move, “so, where do you obtain the luck from?”
The Head looked surprised, as if he were unused to repeating himself.
“I already explained. From the plebeians. The proles. The great unwashed.”
“Look,” Cassandra began, but the Head interrupted her.
“This is difficult, you’re new to the system, but what the general population does not know is that we are able to harvest luck. Remove it from one child, from many children in point of fact, then bestow it upon another. One other. At the price point you’ve opted for your child will absorb the luck of a small street in, let’s see now, ah, East London, or Birmingham, Scunthorpe even. Of course it’s hard to harvest it from everyone, how else could we explain you two slipping through, but we can absorb most of these days.”
Cassandra saw Gary’s face cloud, contemplating the strange offer. She guessed he was thinking of his brother. He lived in Dagenham now, since Walthamstow’s new elite priced him out, inhabiting a squat, red brick terrace with a loud, lively brood of bestial boys, who constantly sought to hit each other and destroy things.
Little Randolph, had been terrified at first, but what really scared Cassandra was the way he so quickly took to their primitive games. She saw him for a moment as he was, a caveman standing in a forest holding a spear. More than ever at that moment she knew she must channel the beast inside, if the boy were to grow into a man she could love.
She shook her head; trying to straighten things out. Could this be true? Could you steal the luck of others?
Cassandra could hear Gary’s brother now, mocking he and Cassandra for being ‘posh’, “too good for the likes of us,” he kept saying and his beastly boys then mimicked their father in shrill estuary tones.
The Head was holding up graphs with the names of streets in poorer areas, showing just how much luck there was to be extracted, along with another chart showing the school’s successful alumni, featuring several BBC presenters and other minor celebrities.
“Surely when you send your child to a fee paying school what you’re buying is the best education money can buy,” asked Cassandra, “and that is the thing which will guarantee success. Make our clever little boy into a well-educated grown up.”
The Head wore a patronising look upon his face.
“Have you met many ex-Public School types?”
“Well, of course, there’s barely a consultant or senior manager in my office who can’t tell you about his spiffing public school days.”
“Good, and your experience of dealing with them,” the Head prodded, “are they all terribly clever?”
“Well some of them are, and some of them aren’t, they’re all quite well spoken, and they all have that same air as each other, like the world was borne to do their bidding, but no, not really clever, they just, like us really, but,” the word balanced a moment on her lips, then took flight, “lucky.”
The Head smiled, a knowing look replacing the patronising one.
“So, you can take the luck of any street in East London, and give it to our boy?” Gary asked.
“Why of course.”
“Gary you’re not buying this, surely?” Cassandra asked.
“Aren’t I? You felt it the same as me didn’t you, when we signed, that was power, a glimpse of another world,” he said, then held up his iPhone, “call your Mum, tell her about this mad thing we’ve been offered.”
“Just a feeling I’ve got.”
The Head nodded and smiled in agreement as he watched and waited for the call to connect.
“Hi Mum, it’s me. Yes we’re at the school I told you about. I need to tell you something,” she paused for a second, as if struggling for thee words, “well, there’s this mad thing – they have a statue in the drive of a man juggling an ox, I mean, sorry, what I meant was there’s that in my garden there’s a pink door painted orange…” Cassandra trailed off, unable to find words to discuss the offer, then instead began to placate a worried parent. “Sorry Mum, no I’m okay, just excited about it all and had an extra glass of prosecco. I’ll call later.”
The Head smiled once again and Cassandra half expected to see vampire teeth mixed in with human, but his gnashers seemed normal enough, then he held out printed sheets which appeared looked like a slender, working class edition of index from an A-to-Z.
Cassandra watched Gary skim the pages, scanning the list, then stop with a satisfied, “hmmm. Okay,” he said to the Head, “we’re in.”
The Head looked to Cassandra who agreed, trying not to recall the screams and moans she’d heard earlier.
Gary handed the booklet back to the Head, pages bent open and his thumb pressed hard on an address. Cassandra knew without looking where it was.
“Ah,” the Headmaster said, “slight problem there, that’s an awfully long street, I’m afraid you’d only get about a few hundred metres of it, this isn’t Eton after all.”
Gary ran his finger down the house numbers and Cassandra saw him settle on his brother’s address.
“There,” he said, “let me have that one.”
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